The moments that defined African football in 2021

Another unforgettable year in African football is in the books, with intoxicating performances, compelling subplots and high-octane drama keeping fans, not to mention players and FA's on their toes.

The coronavirus pandemic -- as with the rest of worldwide sport -- had its influence on proceedings, but once again, the continent's football demonstrated its ability to enthral and entrance in equal measure.

ESPN's Ed Dove picked out African football's defining moments of the last 12 months.

Mendy and Oshoala conquer Europe

Both Edouard Mendy and Asisat Oshoala broke new ground for African football this calendar year with their exploits in men and women's European competition respectively.

Mendy capped off a superb maiden year at Chelsea by winning the Champions League with Thomas Tuchel's Blues, becoming the first African goalkeeper to start a UCL final, and the first to win the continent's grandest prize.

It represents a remarkable personal achievement for Mendy, whose fine save from Karim Benzema in Chelsea's semifinal success demonstrated that he truly belongs at this rarefied level of competition.

Oshoala also won Europe's grandest prize this year, as part of the Barcelona side that dispatched Chelsea 4-0 in the Women's Champions League final in May.

The forward had previously scored in the 2019 final as Barca were beaten by Olympique Lyonnais, and she now becomes the first African woman to win the grandest prize in the woman's club game.

Salah salvages Liverpool's season...

Mohamed Salah was undoubtedly Africa's outstanding performer across the calendar year, although his 2021 was split into two halves...both united by his relentless form in front of goal.

During the first half of the season, he was influential in dragging injury-ravaged Liverpool back into Champions League contention.

While unprecedented fitness problems wholly prevented the Reds from defending their Premier League crown, Salah's inspired displays helped them climb from eighth place in the middle of March to the top three by the season's end.

His run of five goals in seven Prem games between early April and mid-May was critical as Liverpool tore back into contention, although the best was still to come...

...and equals a Premier League record

Already, before this season began, Salah had won the Champions League and the Premier League with Liverpool -- ending their three-decade wait for the gold -- clinched the division's Golden Boot on two occasions, and inspired Egypt to the 2018 World Cup.

Yet in recent months, he's taken his game to new heights, truly being considered among the world's finest players thanks to his relentless form for the Reds in the top flight.

Between August 28 and December 16, he scored or assisted in every Premier League game in which he played -- a run of 15 matches that equals a record set by Jamie Vardy in 2015-16.

During that remarkable spell, the attacker scored twice in the derby thumping of Everton, and netted wondergoals in consecutive matches against Manchester City and Watford.

The highlight, however, must surely be his hat-trick display against Manchester United in Liverpool's 5-0 domination of their old foe in October.

Salah became the first visiting player to bag a triple at the Theatre of Dreams since Ronaldo Nazario in 2003, and in doing so, delivered one of the all-time iconic individual Premier League performances.

Mahrez vs Paris Saint-Germain

Riyad Mahrez's display against PSG across both legs of the Champions League semifinal deserves to be mentioned alongside Salah vs Manchester United as one of the great African displays of the calendar year.

For one of the outstanding African stars of his generation, Mahrez has too often been accused of only decorating matches at Manchester City since signing from Leicester City for £60 million.

On the back of his underwhelming showing in the FA Cup semifinal against Arsenal in 2020, and then his omission from the side for the UCL quarterfinal exit by Olympique Lyonnais, he headed into the Champions League with a point to prove.

He duly proved it, answering any lingering critics by scoring City's winner in the first leg at the Parc des Princes, and then netting both goals in the return fixture as Pep Guardiola's side reached their first UCL final.

Ultimately, they were eclipsed by Chelsea in Porto, but Mahrez's semifinal outings were among the finest performances by one of the continent's stars in the history of Europe's premier club competition.

Ballon d'Or snubs

Despite the aforementioned successes of African players at the business end of European competition, the continent's stars were again overlooked in the Ballon d'Or voting.

Mendy was omitted from the 30-man shortlist completely -- a snub that generated considerable discussion among the continent's footballing fraternity -- while Salah and Mahrez ended in seventh and 20th place respectively.

"It's unacceptable, I don't understand," said Sadio Mane of compatriot Mendy's snub, while the Chelsea stopper himself questioned whether he would have been treated differently had he represented France rather than Senegal.

Banda's masterclass in Zambia's Olympic thriller

Zambia's Olympic campaign in the women's football competition was a remarkable journey from start to finish.

The Shepolopolo were ranked 105th in the world before the tournament, and their campaign began with a devastating 10-3 ravishing by the Netherlands which many feared would set the tone for an embarrassing campaign.

However, they won admirers aplenty with a thrilling 4-4 draw with China and a subsequent 1-0 defeat by Brazil, and were honoured with a customised cake upon their return home.

Barbra Banda bagged consecutive hat-tricks -- the first women to achieve the feat at the Games -- to become Africa's all-time top women's scorer in the tournament, etching her own name into Olympic folklore.

New leadership for CAF

In March, Mamelodi Sundowns owner and South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe was elected as the new CAF president to finally bring to an end the troubled reign of Ahmad Ahmad.

The broader consequences of Motsepe's arrival are yet to truly be felt, although he appears to have fought for the maintaining of the Africa Cup of Nations despite opposition from within and outside Africa.

His rise to the top job in African football comes amidst significant support from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, and Motsepe's tenure looks likely to mean closer coordination between the two governing bodies.

The AFCON overcomes Omicron...for now

Indeed, one of Motsepe's most notable contributions to African football to date has been his successful push for the Africa Cup of Nations will take place in Cameroon this month as planned.

There had been concerns that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and specifically the fast-spreading Omicron variant, not to mention political instability in Cameroon and sluggish building works for some of the tournament's stadiums, that the competition would not go ahead in January.

However, Motsepe did not bow to pressure from - among others - the European Club Association, and insisted that the show would go on... albeit amidst some strict Covid regulations.

"[Africa] must always identify problems and challenges, and not shy away from them," he told journalists. "We must have the confidence and the belief that we can overcome them."

Algeria set a world record

In 2021, African football also witnessed the extension of the greatest undefeated streak in the history of the continent's game, as Algeria went another calendar year without losing a match and set a world record for international football.

Their record for 2021 sat at 17 matches played, 13 wins, four draws, zero defeats, and they equalled Italy's record of 37 games unbeaten after their Arab Cup quarterfinal victory over Morocco on penalties.

They promptly eclipsed the Azzurri in the semifinal, defeating Qatar 2-1, and then extended their world record unbeaten streak to 39 matches - and won the Arab Cup - by beating Tunisia 2-0 after extra time in the final in Al Khor earlier this month.

One has to go all the way back to October 2018, and an AFCON qualifying defeat by Benin, to find the last game that Algeria lost, and this Fennecs side head into the Africa Cup of Nations seemingly having forgotten how to lose.